On the heels of the success of the beautiful ‘Through The Lens’ web series, Adorama has brought director Sal D’Alia back to the warm indoors as they launch ‘The Photographer’s Roundtable,’ a simple 45-minute show that aims to open a casual and direct conversation with some of the world’s most influential photographers.
For the first episode, host Kishore Sawh dons his finest sport coat as he spearheads a panel discussion about ‘landscape photography’ with a who’s who of outdoor adventure photography.
Erin Babnik, Jacob Riglin, Chris Burkard, Keith Ladzinski and Pete McBride are no strangers to the outdoors, extreme environments and conservation efforts. Collectively, the formidable five-some has almost 6 MILLION followers on Instagram, with Burkard, Ladzinski and McBride being regular contributors for the holy grail of photography journalism, National Geographic.
So when you have the chance to watch these five brilliant minds sit down together and just chat about their passion for their art, you mine every ounce of knowledge out of the experience as you can.
I watched the discussion twice over, and I learned just as much the second time around as the first. I have collected a list of my favorite quotes from the show, but to really get the lesson behind the words, I advise shutting off all distractions and watching the discussion yourself.
“A photograph now is more of a communication tool than anything.” -Chris Burkard
Chris was talking about the advance of photography as an art form over the years. He related his recent experience of studying Ansel Adam’s archives, and how the archivist explained that, in Ansel’s day, photography was more a tool for science than an art. Keith talked about how most of the photographs being taken today are almost strictly for the personal memories, bringing full circle how far the ‘art’ of photography has come since Ansel Adam’s day.
“There is an element of loving a place to death…and maybe part of the story I am trying to tell is that we have to protect this place. If your canvas is going to be the outdoors, isn’t there a question for us as storytellers to protect it?” – Pete McBride
The group discussion turned to how to keep people engaged in such a saturated social media society. Pete recounts how he revisits places that he used to enjoy by himself years ago, whereas now those same places have dozens of people constantly crammed into them, most trying to get the same photograph. Whereas Pete’s career has been focused on conservation, he brings up an important point. Maybe we all need to do a little more to help prevent us as a society from ‘loving a place to death.’
‘Be educated as to what the local issues are. Don’t travel blindly. Open yourself up to more awareness of what you are doing and what you are shooting. This is our responsibility as photographers.’ – Chris Burkard
Chris touches on an important point here. Why are you traveling in the first place? Is it to experience the culture, try the food, or get that one photo for Instagram? Whatever the underlying reason is, open your eyes and ears and get to know the community, the land, and the people that you are visiting. You are in their home. Show respect by getting to know the land and its inhabitants that have been there for centuries before you arrived and will be there for centuries after you leave.
“Photography is my life. Most of the time I am taking pictures, it’s for me. I think most people shoot for the joy of shooting. Whenever you are doing the thing you love, you get tunnel vision. And that’s such a cleansing of the mind.” – Keith Ladzinski
It is so great to hear Keith talk about the fact that a lot of the photos he takes still get his passion and creative juices flowing. With the impressive resume that he has, you would think almost all of his photography work is ‘for others’ and not for himself. This is a powerful line that reinforces that no matter how much work you get, how much stress you are under, it is possible to still enjoy what you do.
“An agency once gave me great advice. They said: ‘Your website is important, but if we want to hire you, we are going to look at your blog.‘ And they were right. They want to know who YOU are. They want to know who we are as people, because they want to spend time with you.” – Chris Burkard
Great advice. A website full of portfolio worthy images may look great, but brands don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t fit into their culture and share the same values as them. Don’t be afraid to be yourself on social media and on your blog. There is only one you. It’s better that business and your followers engage with you because they can relate to the real you. They feel like you are just like them and not some faceless avatar devoid of a personality. They will be much more loyal in the long run.
“I didn’t go to Brooks or a photo school to learn , I just figured it out. I mean, where do you go to learn the business in arts? It’s just going to take time.” – Keith Ladzinski
Preach on brother Keith. There is no playbook for how to succeed in making your passion a business these days, even for a National Geographic photographer such as Keith. Trial and error, hearing no a lot, and lots of sucking is how you learn (more on that later)
“You are only as good as your last story or your last image. You can never rest on your laurels.” – Pete McBride
In this fast moving age of social media and photography, you can easily be discovered and explode in popularity overnight. But, you can just as easily be forgotten overnight as well.
“Don’t cut corners when it comes to preparation. Less planning on the actual research of a trip and more planning to make sure you are prepared” – Jacob Riglin
Jacob nails it with this quote. So many of us are focused on the what to do when the time comes that we quickly find out that we aren’t PREPARED for that time when it comes.
“You just do what it is that you do. You do it as well as you can. And just work REALLY freaking hard at it, and things tend to work out.” – Erin Babnik
While I am not in complete agreement with the last part of this sentence, the rest is spot on. Quit comparing yourself to everyone else. Just do what YOU do. Kick ass at it, and work your tail off doing it. Even with all of those traits, after years of it, things still might not work out the way you envisioned, but at least you gave it everything you got and became a better photographer and entrepreneur in the process.
“I don’t even know where my next paycheck is coming from.” – Chris Burkard
I have known Chris Burkard for years and have heard him say this countless times, and each time it just drives the point home more and more. Obviously Chris is well known and has a roster chalk full of big name clients. Is he struggling to put food on the table every month? Most likely not. But the point is, choosing to live the life of an independent creative requires a life-long commitment. If you wanted to know that your bank account will have x more dollars every month, you can get a desk job with a steady paycheck and day-dream about traveling. But if you actually want to DO the traveling, follow your passions and own your own business and be your own boss, you can’t take your foot off of the gas. Ever. Because you never know where that paycheck is coming from. And if you do take your foot off of the gas, that next paycheck might not come at all.
“You invest in so many little things that accumulate into bigger things” – Chris Burkard
This is a great follow up to another comment Chris made earlier in the show. “Everyone wants to know when my ‘big break’ came. There was no magical big break.’ Chris is talking about how success can only come from investing your time and energy (and even money) in lots of small projects. While none of those might ‘put you on the map’ instantly, the cumulation of all of those lead to bigger projects, bigger goals, and more importantly, bigger ‘breaks’.
“It’s not for everybody. You have to put the time in. You have to hear the word ‘no’ alot. You have to suck. You have to do all these things before things work for you. There is no playbook.” – Keith Ladzinski
This great quote ties back into both Keith’s original point about there not being a playbook and Chris’ quote about there is no ‘big break.’ You just have to grind. You have to get rejected. You have to suck. All of those failures will not only help make you hungrier for success but also give you valuable lessons about both the industry you are trying to break into and about life.
“A lot of information that people are looking for, you have to remind them that it’s really easy to find on Google.” – Chris Burkard
No description needed. Do the work yourself and stop looking for everyone else to tell you how to do it.
“You gotta suck. Then you emulate. Then you find your voice. But you have to enjoy the failures.” -Keith Ladzinski
As Keith said before, this isn’t for everyone. If you are the type of creative who doesn’t accept failure and learn from it, you will never find your voice.
“If you want to create art and illustrate, go nuts. But own it. Don’t pretend like you were the only one to see it like that.” – Pete McBride
Pete is discussing editing images. Coming from a National Geographic background, Pete explains that most photo editing wasn’t allowed. Photographers would have to turn over their RAW files to Nat Geo as a way to have their work checked or edited by the magazine. Pete and the other panelists describe the new wave of digital art, where photographers might replace skies, remove objects and more. None of them had a problem with creatives sharing their passion for digital art. But own it. I think this relates to photos and sharing your life in general. For every picture perfect scene you share on Instagram, there was five moments where real life got in the way. You experienced trials and failures. Own it. Share it. Show your followers that not everything is a perfectly manicured Instagram feed. If it isn’t ‘real,’ don’t claim that it is. You will only contribute to an environment where people are going to extremes to get the likes, no matter the real-life expense.
“Don’t ask for food in a Russian jail cell” – Chris Burkard
Wise words from a wise man.
“No image is worth risking your life’”– Pete McBride
Seriously, please. Do we really need to keep saying this? Life is beautiful. Stop doing stupid things.
“A great photographer shares what they fear losing most” – Chris Burkard
Maybe this relates to the above comment. Maybe a great photographer fears losing their life? Their connection with nature? Their public lands? Their adventures? Sharing their lives and their passions, knowing that they may not always have that chance, has brought these five photographers to where they are now.
What did I take out of that comment? Stop creating for everyone else. Create for yourself. Art should fuel your soul, expand your creativity, and become a means for expressing yourself. If you aren’t doing it for those reasons, then why are you even bothering?
All photos by Michael Bonocore while filming the SmugMug film on Chris Burkard.
“You gotta suck. Then you emulate. Then you find your voice. But you have to enjoy the failures.” This, along with the one from Chris about not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, helps keep it real. And motivating to keep working hard all the time, doing what you do.
Yup, I loved that line too John. It’s amazing how much I continue to learn from each of these photographers on a daily basis.